Privacy group TRUSTe, in an effort to boost consumer confidence in using the Internet for e-commerce, is launching an ad campaign to promote its privacy "trustmark."
Web sites that use the privacy logo must disclose how they handle personal data collected from visitors. Concerns about the privacy of personal data are considered a key barrier blocking consumers from using the Net to buy products and services.
The ad campaign, which will run both online and in traditional media, will have two targets, online consumers and Web publishers. TRUSTe, a private, nonprofit organization, positions itself as a way to address privacy concerns without government legislation.
"We are trying to get users aware [of privacy protections] and how Web sites can address the issue," said Paola Benassi, product operations manager for TrustE. Publishers have donated more than $1 million in advertising to the campaign to date.
The consumer ads aim to educate users about their privacy rights and practices, encouraging them to take control of how their personal information is used online. The ads targeting Web publishers and merchants focus on privacy as a key industry issue.
In a small survey in August, 61 percent of consumers polled by Forrester Research said they are very or extremely concerned about online privacy.
"People really do care about this, and they are very worked up about how marketers are using and gathering their information," said Forrester analyst Kate Delhagen. "The Internet has put the issue into the limelight because it's so easy to gather and disseminate information on people you don't know."
Consumers are especially concerned about the privacy of social security numbers, email messages, and phone conversations. People already online are slightly less sensitive about privacy issues, the research found, an indication that as the Net draws more new users, privacy concerns will become even more critical.
"It's extremely important for marketers. To succeed, they need to understand this is a big deal for consumers," Delhagen said. Nonetheless, Forrester found that if Web sites offer something of value to visitors, those visitors are likely to offer more personal data voluntarily.
Last month TRUSTe simplified its logo system by narrowing it from three different logos to one, because marketers said branding three separate logos on a limited budget would be difficult. Web sites also worried that three different logos resembled a rating system. In June hearings into online privacy, members of the Federal Trade Commission also had pushed for a simpler system.
The single logo now indicates that TRUSTe has reviewed a site's policy, that the policy is understandable and addresses six specific areas, and that TRUSTe can audit a site's compliance with its own policy, Benassi said.
TRUSTe requires sites to disclose what information they collect, how personal data is used, whether it is sold or given to others, whether it lets site visitors opt out of having their information used, whether visitors can return and correct information they may have given, and whether visitors can remove their data from the site's database.
"They can get the trustmark as long as they disclose what they are doing. We're not saying if it's good or bad," Benassi said. TRUSTe does offer sample privacy policies that Web publishers may adopt.
Companies that comply with TRUSTe's conditions can license the trustmark logo for $500 to $5,000, depending on the company's revenues and the sensitivity of the information it is collecting.